Gone But Not To Be Forgotten: The Legacy of Astralis, the Greatest Team of All Time (Part 1)

The Astralis lineup, which won three consecutive majors, were without a doubt the best team to ever touch the game of Counter-Strike. Their dominance has been unparalleled, they have advanced the meta of the game and cemented their place in the pantheon of the greatest teams forever.

However, many will not understand or appreciate their full story, their rise from talented followers to indomitable masters of all that they have overlooked. The story of the core of this Astralis team, by Nicolai “⁠Device⁠” Reedtz, Peter “⁠Dupreeh⁠” Rasmussen and Andreas “⁠Xyp9x⁠” Højsleth, dates back to 2013.

Astralis’ fourth major win in Berlin secured her legacy

Come with me on a stroll through the past as we follow the journey of this fabled core as they climb the ranks of the CS: GO elite and eventually establish themselves as legends of the game.

The early days – learning, growing and suffocating

device, dupreeh and Xyp9x began their journey in the Danish scene on CPH Wolves and then Dignitas under the leadership of the respected CS: Source IGL Henrik “⁠FeTiSh⁠” Christensen. The early days were a story told by talented youngsters who impress but never reach their full potential. The main problem with this squad, and with the device in particular, was suffocation; They seemed to drop significantly in level every time they reached the business end of a tournament.

By 2014 they cemented themselves as one of the top teams in the world, but they still suffered excruciating underperformance when it came down to it and seemed to be battling NIP specifically. Take the EMS One Katowice Major as a case study; they came to the event in glowing form, beating up iBUPOWER, Reason and HellRaisers on the way to the semi-finals, only to be beaten up by the ninjas themselves.

In February 2015, the rise began with the arrival of Finn “⁠Karrigan⁠” Andersen and the switch to playing under TSM. As the leader himself admitted in an interview with Duncan “⁠Thorin⁠” Shields in later years, the team was very receptive to all of his ideas due to their constant underperformance. His arrival also seemed to give them some confidence, and they set about solidifying themselves as the top 2 team in the world, winning regular events, and eventually gaining major series wins over perennial archenemy NIP. They even spent a few weeks as the number one team in the world and after a storm run at the PGL Season 1 Finals they briefly grabbed the top spot from fnatic and won this event with 6 card wins, 0 defeats. But there were two big problems this iteration of the team would haunt – consistency and majors.

karrigan brought the first real taste for success to the core

They won tournaments and generally ranked well, but there were annoyingly frequent dropouts – a 7-8 “⁠TrapN⁠” Toledo and Fernando “⁠Fer⁠” Alvarenga among them, some time before they became top CS: GO pros.

It also seemed that they were just cursed when it came to the majors. Her first swing under the TSM banner was a failure at ESL One Katowice 2015, which was understandable; it was early days with Karrigan at the helm and they received an unlucky draw in the form of – you guessed it – NIP in the quarterfinals where they lost 2-1. The next major, ESL One Cologne, saw them suffer in the semifinals under the French from Envy, the team that slowly seemed to join NIP as a team that the Danes could never beat. The final major under the TSM banner was the most egregious, DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca, as it was the one that even Karrigan later admitted to being the favorite and No. 1 team in the world. Fate is a cruel mistress, as they faced the bogey team NIP again in the quarterfinals and left the tournament with a whimper 0-2 and at best managed 10 rounds.

It wasn’t long before the switch to the Astralis banner occurred. In hindsight, much can be said about the fanfare surrounding this move to a supposedly “player-owned” organization, but that’s probably an issue that is best left aside for another time. What it meant for the players was a move to an organization based in their home country that they certainly valued far more than TSM had ever done, and that could hopefully take them to greater heights.

The change was followed by more top placings, without touching the heights of the top TSM days, always a top 4 team that, however, struggled to continue. Another major failure, this time a top four at Columbus, seemed to cloud the atmosphere within the team, which was followed by a severe slump in form. The 9th-12th Place at the DreamHack Masters Malmö and 7th-8th place at the Pro League S3 just wasn’t good enough for a team of Astralis’ caliber, and a change in the squad was the chosen solution with Markus “⁠Kjaerbye⁠” Kjærbye comes for René “⁠Cajunb” Borg. It was an odd move considering that Cajunb was always more of an RPG in the roster and Kjaerbye was a rising star on the Danish scene, regularly dropping 30 kills and earning over 1.50 HLTV ratings. With Device and Dupreeh already the star designated players and Xyp9x being the third star and middleman, it seemed like they were cramming too many players who would need resources to be successful in the roster.

Kjaerbye joined the team as a hot offspring

Unfortunately, this seemed to be confirmed by the run the team continued immediately after taking over Kjaerbye, a series of decent but uninspiring top four finishes and 5-8 finishes. It seemed inevitable which head would be on the chopping block next, and indeed, after tumbling out of ESL One New York with a single card and flopping at the regional WESG final, Karrigan got the boot. Rumors were already circulating behind the scenes that the team was losing confidence in the leader’s casual calling style in the game, and Karrigan admitted he’d given in to the team’s desire to play a more structured style ahead of the New York event.

A new leader, a new tomorrow

Lukas “⁠Gla1ve⁠” Rossander, an IGL who previously bounced around the Danish scene, came to Astralis and the recovery started almost immediately. The team began to perform well in the regular ECS season, going to IEM Oakland and finishing in the top four, taking second place at the following ELEAGUE Season 2 event, and picking up their first trophy just a few months after gla1ves tenure with a win at ECS season 2 finals. This run of form resulted in them once again reaching number 1 in the world and entering another major at the top of the CS: GO mountain.

But somehow they didn’t feel like they were the favorites for the ELEAGUE Major 2017. The image of the eternal collars still followed them, as they were a team that could still beat themselves inside their own heads before even connecting to the server. There were many on the scene tired of predicting Astralis’ victory for this major, even though everything indicated that they were, in fact, the favorites. Their opening game did little to allay concerns as they were convincingly beaten by the Swedes by GODSENT, and they suffered not only from that but also from another setback that came next in the form of a painful 17 fight back the Swiss system -19 defeat in extra time against the previous major winner, the Brazilians from SK.

As if destined to dispel the label of “suffocating” attributed to them and the devices in particular, the Astralis run on this major was marked by the team battling their way through tough challenges. No game was more telling than the final, a three-map slog against the legendary Polish Virtus. 14 wins. It also didn’t matter that the device went missing in the finals, as the young upstart Kjaerbye took the lead, securing a major MVP medal.

With gla1ve came the first major trophy

You would be forgiven if you expected this to be the beginning of the Astralis era. They seemed to have everything to themselves; They were number 1 in the world, they had just secured a major title, the young shooter they had brought them to that title, and they legitimately had four players vying for a spot in the HLTV Top 20 The Astralis era was teased as they won the IEM Katowice in the next three tournaments, finished runner-ups in the top four in the DreamHack Masters Las Vegas and finished second in the StarSeries Season 3. After that, however, the Danes wavered.

They failed to make it to the ESL Pro League Season 5 finals. With the top 4 of the ECS Season 3 they slipped from the top of the world rankings, followed by PGL Major Krakow. Top 4 was all they could do here, in the semifinals by a Danylo. defeated “⁠Zeus⁠” Teslenko-inspired gambit that would win the whole thing. Astralis should have gotten past this type of excitement, but surely they would bounce back from it and move on?

Not correct.

Astralis has not won a single event between Krakow and the next major, ELEAGUE 2018. They only managed two top two finishes. They had fallen back to pre-TSM levels, had earned regular playoff berths, but never managed to win anything. There is such a thing as an asterisk next to that time as they saw the device leave the team for a while with medical issues and this obviously had an impact on their rankings but in any case these are not successful sites in the Astralis History book. That period culminated in the frankly shocking performance after the device’s return at ELEAGUE 2018, when it didn’t exit the Swiss group stage and scored a single arduous 16:14 win against its Danes North, with three losses where they didn’t get it binary.

You’d think this would have signaled a roster shift in the near future, and it did, but not for the reason you might expect. Kjaerbye eventually left Astralis for the north, but it was done on his own terms; he was not kicked off the team and the rest of Astralis expected him and himself to sign back with the organization for another year. When he posted the news on his Twitter, gla1ve said he was “speechless” from the move. It seemed like a shocking transfer as Astralis were still Denmark’s best team despite a disappointing year; Kjaerbye was even aware of this fact and commented on the step: “Sometimes in life you need the courage to take a step back in order to move forward.” Astralis looked for a fifth as the ESL Pro League list was just days away.

Enter Emil “⁠Magisk⁠” Ripe.

… continued in part 2.

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